Prosecutors down tools

BY BLESSED MHLANGA/DESMOND CHINGARANDE/FARAI MATIASHE

PROSECUTORS at the High Court downed tools yesterday over fears that the office of Prosecutor-General (PG) Kumbirai Hodzi had been captured by the State security services and political functionaries putting their lives at risk.
In a petition addressed to Hodzi, the Prosecutors Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) accused the Special Anti-Corruption Unit (Sacu) of abuse of office, saying they were being given instructions by that unit.

“Sacu has proven to have more powers as they give prosecutors instructions on how to proceed in matters. This is viewed as an abuse of their office,” the petition read.

Highly-placed sources said following the arrest of prosecutor Tapiwa Kasema soon after he exercised his judicial duties by consenting to granting former Finance minister Ignatius Chombo his passport, prosecutors now feared for

their safety amid indications that some powerful hands were behind his arrest.

“Kasema was arrested for doing his duties. This rattled senior prosecutors who then approached Hodzi to understand why the PG had caused his arrest, but the PG is reported to have told his juniors that he was unaware of thematter and this triggered unrest,” a highly-placed source said.

Senior National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) officers, fretting over the presence of police and military prosecutors, seconded to the department were yesterday reportedly locked in meetings with Hodzi and senior members from the Justice ministry over their safety and independence.

“Before a prosecutor is arrested, internal remedies must be exhausted first before criminal allegations are laid on the prosecutors. Prosecutors must be protected by the institution from intimidation by any powers that may be,” the petition added.

Hodzi, who was not taking calls, is facing a revolt from his subordinates, who accused him of harassing and intimidating his staff into taking instructions and actions which did not make legal sense.
During public interviews for the position of PG, Hodzi, claimed that there was a cartel of corrupt NPA officers and he had a secret dossier which he had put together and was going to use it to break the ring.

His first act upon his appointment was to transfer chief law officer, Chris Mutangadura to Guruve, a move later reversed by the High Court after a tongue lashing from the judge directed at Hodzi.

The PG also shocked the public when he said as Acting PG he took instructions from the Executive on what matters to prosecute or drop, given that his office should be independent from influence from other arms of government.

Sources said this was followed by covert actions which have seen the NPA losing its powers to Sacu in the President’s Office.

“In defiance and disregard of instructions given to accused by the PG, which instructed that all decisions in court relating to corruption be referred to the Sacu for verification, instead accused person without consulting the

relevant authorities consented application by the applicant Ignatius Chombo,” part of the documents read.

Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said he was unaware of the prosecutors’ industrial action, but appeared to understand their concern.
“I have been chairing the inter-ministerial committee meeting from morning and am just coming out now, so I am not aware of the action. I am now rushing to Parliament so I will be able to talk to you later,” he said.

Ziyambi said there were criminal matters that would warrant the arrest of anyone, including prosecutors, but in other cases, there was need to institute disciplinary measures and not arrest someone.

“The NPA has a disciplinary board and it’s got a duty to deal with those things, it would be amiss to arrest someone for incompetence say it’s a case of incompetence,” Ziyambi said.

Secretary for Justice Virginia Mabiza described the industrial action as shocking.

“That people would try to show solidarity with a person accused of corruption shows you that we are in a mess. I am perplexed, why not let due process take its course and if there is no case to answer the person will be released?” she queried.

Lawyer Chris Mhike said it was sad that prosecutors were being mistreated, in addition to being “pathetically remunerated by their superiors”.

“Prosecutors are vital actors towards the effective functioning of any country’s judicial system. In order for the justice delivery mechanism to work efficiently and effectually under that judicial system, it is essential that all key players be afforded optimum levels of freedom and independence,” Mhike said.

“In the present case, the reported meddling with the prosecutorial independence of ordinary officers of the NPA must, therefore, be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Not only have public prosecutors or law officers from the NPA suffered the consequences of the grotesque blight of political interference in the prosecution arena; prisoners and accused persons, who include innocent people, have suffered immensely and continue to suffer as a result of this completely justified industrial action.”

The PAZ also said its members were poorly paid.

“The prosecutors are poorly remunerated and they do not even get allowances due to them regarding the nature of the job they conduct. Prosecutors are, therefore, appealing to the board to review their condition of service, remunerations and allowances and seek the necessary concurrence from the Finance ministry,” part of the petition read.

PAZ said lack of housing and motor vehicle loans would encourage prosecutors to engage in corrupt activities.

“Prosecutors are appealing to the (NPA) board to exercise their powers and provide or guarantee loans to its members for the purchasing of houses, stands and/or improvements of their houses or land. Most prosecutors do not own houses; they are tenants despite being in the organisation for so many years. Justice is likely to be compromised as their landlords may at any time be litigants before the criminal courts,” the petition added.

“Most prosecutors rely on public transport to get to work. There is no bus or transport system offered by the authority to ferry its members to and from work. This poses a high risk on prosecutors because they rely on the public transport for transport some who will be their accused person or complaints.”

The strike action by prosecutors put on hold 41 bail applications and five criminal trials which were supposed to be heard yesterday.

Litigants’ lawyers who had trooped to court to defend their clients were left stranded and called on Hodzi to put his house in order because the actions by NPA personnel amounted to violation of accused person’s rights.

Lawyer Benson Taruvinga said bail applications were urgent matters and should not be held out by such actions from the prosecution.

“Their unavailability to prosecute is a serious violation of the accused persons rights to liberty, as a matter of fact bail matters on their own are urgent applications and must not be affected by the unavailability of prosecutors as lawyers we expected to be addressed by the Prosecutor-General himself to inform us of the position as it stands,” Taruvinga said.